At the Blue Olive Market, a new casual restaurant and carryout service in the United Nations neighborhood, you can be out the door in minutes with a lunch of rack of lamb — four lovely rare-cooked chops — along with two vegetable side dishes, all for the princely sum of $13.95.
The market, on East 41st Street between Second and Third Avenues, opened this winter, offering Greek-inspired breakfasts, lunches and dinners. You could call it a fast-food place, because assembling and buying a meal is generally pretty quick. But its style is the opposite of fast food. Many dishes have been cooked slowly and thoughtfully, until they brim with flavor. Octopus is simmered until tender and jazzed up by slivers of red and green peppers and a lemony vinaigrette to become a chunky salad. Eggplant and red peppers are roasted till unctuous.
Then there’s the amazing lamb sandwich, composed of a sizable long-braised hunk of meat layered on a crunchy baguette and topped with cheese, thinly sliced roasted beet, arugula and honey-mustard dressing. Accompanied by your choice of dill pickle spears or a generous scoop of a slightly too sweet coleslaw, it’s a steal at $10.95.
The market appears to take its inspiration from Eataly, the sprawling, wildly successful emporium off Madison Square Park, which has evolved into a kind of adult Disneyland of Italian food and drink.
Like Eataly, Blue Olive seating is threaded throughout. It can handle about 40 customers in spaces that feel friendly and uncrowded, even if you are eating alone. It provides stools and counter space as well as wooden tables and heavy wooden chairs with comfortable backs.
Wherever you look, food is attractively displayed — whether packaged, fresh or cooked — for consumption on the spot, to take out or to stand in for catering. There’s a custom sandwich counter, a soup stop, a dazzling salad station and a vast display of prepared hot entrees and vegetable dishes, laid out in big stainless steel trays.
Then you spot the long, seductive pastry case, a frozen yogurt counter, a bar where you can order beer and wine by the glass or by the bottle to accompany a meal and even a grocery aisle offering a limited selection of fresh fruits and vegetables alongside packets of dried oregano and sage, tubs of coffee beans, containers of Greek yogurt, bottles of house-brand olive oil and a sizable variety of packaged cheeses, meats and smoked fish.
Do you grab breakfast at the UN staff cafeteria? The Blue Olive Market opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, an hour and a half earlier than the cafeteria, with an impressive selection — from muffins, croissants and Greek pastries to French toast, yogurt with fruit and granola, steel-cut oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup and made-to-order eggs. The espresso and cappuccino are rich and prepared to order.
The most expensive items on the morning menu, an omelet with sausage and potatoes and smoked salmon on a baguette, are $7.95 each.
At lunchtime, the salad bar seems to be the biggest draw, so expect a short wait. The standard offerings ($7.75 to $12.75) range from tabbouli to spinach with bacon and cheese to a chicken Caesar or the New Yorker Greek, combining romaine, tomato, onion, olives, cucumbers, peppers, feta, dolmas and pepperoncini. A generous custom salad is $9.75, and the choice of components almost overwhelming.
Sandwiches are another good choice. If you’re in a big hurry, you’ll find a few pre-made ones in the display case to the right of the counter. But do yourself a favor and have your sandwich made to order ($8 to $11). Ask for it on one of the crusty baguettes provided by Bakehouse, from the West Village (they also make Blue Olive’s croissants). Avoid the bland cold cuts, from Boar’s Head, one of Blue Olive’s few disappointments.
Four soups are also offered every day, at $4.50 for a cup and $6 for a bowl. The soups come in recyclable cardboard cartons; perhaps in time Blue Olive will switch its plastic take-out containers for greener packaging.
The market is also open evenings, and there are signs that management is trying to sell the setting as a romantic dinner destination — which it really is not. But the price of the prepared foods is about the same in the evening as at lunchtime, and you could do much worse in Midtown East than an evening meal of branzino or roast stuffed pork loin with two vegetable side dishes for $12 to $14. You’ll even be tempted by the New York strip steak on the menu some nights, but that’s a heftier $29.50.
Blue Olive Market is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is located at 210 East 41st Street between Second and Third Avenues; (212) 922-0991.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.